Tools of the Trade (Graphic Design)

The Adobe Creative Suite is the industry standard for the professional graphic designer, offering the world’s best creative apps to unleash your creativity. Most people are probably familiar with Photoshop and Illustrator since they are two of the most popular Adobe products.

A few years ago, Adobe introduced Creative Cloud, a subscription-based service for its creative apps. There are different pricing plans available, catering to both individuals and organizations.

Creative Cloud, a subscription-based service for Adobe's creative apps
Creative Cloud, a subscription-based service for Adobe’s creative apps

If you are just starting out as a graphic designer, consider getting Photoshop for image manipulation and Illustrator to create visual designs. After some calculations, getting the cheapest plans (Photography and Single App) will cost you around $40 a month. If you want to learn more about the products and pricing plans, be sure to visit Adobe.

Illustrator is a program used by graphic designers to create vector images — which can be scaled to any resolution without losing quality.

However, $40 a month may not be affordable depending on your financial situation. Does that mean you give up your dream of becoming a graphic designer? Absolutely not. In fact, there are many alternatives that are completely free to use. Let’s take a look at some of them.


GIMP is a one of the most popular free and open-source image editor
GIMP is a one of the most popular free and open-source image editor

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (or GIMP for short) is a decent alternative to Photoshop. It’s almost 2 decades old, with new and improved features being added with each build. I have been using GIMP for most of my work with pretty good results.

You can get more information by going to GIMP. If you are looking to dive right in, GIMP Tutorials will introduce you to the interface and walk you through some basic image manipulation techniques.


Inkscape offers a rich set of features for both artistic and technical illustrations
Inkscape offers a rich set of features for both artistic and technical illustrations

As a graphic designer, you need a program capable of creating vector graphics. If you don’t have Illustrator, then I highly recommend Inkscape. It’s a free, open-source program with many features similar to Illustrator. I have been using Inkscape for most of my projects, and it has served me very well so far.

An open source software contains code that can be access and modified by anyone. Such projects promote collaboration and sharing. As such, they are usually free to use, with software-specific add-ons available to personalize your user experience.

If you haven’t already, do visit Inkscape to find out more about the program. You should also check out Inkscape Tutorials, which will guide you through the different features and provide pointers to streamline your design process.

GIMP and Inkscape are great when you are just starting out; you can download them at any time and access to all their features instantly. That said, both programs aren’t nearly as powerful as their Adobe counterparts. In addition, most clients will usually request for Adobe file formats (such as PSD or AI) as source files. As such, if you can afford it, consider getting Photoshop and Illustrator as soon as possible.


Break down creative barriers with CorelDRAW
break down creative barriers with CorelDRAW

For a third alternative, consider the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. It is an all-in-one package, and has many of the same features as Illustrator and Photoshop. If you aren’t keen on Adobe’s subscription plans, then good news — the CorelDRAW products can be purchased in full. 


As a graphic designer, part of your workflow will involve sketching out ideas when conceptualizing a design. The traditional pencil and paper is the most straightforward and cheapest option. However, oftentimes you will have to present the sketches to your client, which might be an issue if you are working remotely and can’t meet them face to face. There are solutions, such as a scanner or camera, but it will get tedious after a while.

In my case, I decided to go with a graphics tablet. It is a hardware input device that allows you to draw digitally using a stylus. You will need practice to get used to drawing on a computer screen, but it will be worth it in the long run, especially if you are looking to venture into illustration later on.

Wacom is a popular brand for graphics tablets. There are others on the market, but you might run into driver and pen problems (as reported by some users).

Wacom provides graphics tablets to equip and inspire creativity
Wacom provides graphics tablets to equip and inspire creativity

For those on a tight budget, you might want to consider a refurbished tablet, which costs much less and works just as well for sketching. Otherwise, here are a few choices with decent reviews:

Intuos Draw Creative Pen Tablet

Priced at $69.95

The Intuos Draw Creative Pen Tablet is the cheapest among the Wacom products and gives you everything you need (including the ArtRage Lite software) to start sketching.

Huion H610 Pro

Priced at $76.99

The Huion H610 Pro is one of Huion’s most popular products. It is value for money and good for entry-level use.

Monoprice Tablets

Priced from $23.92 to $92.62

Monoprice has a range of graphics tablets, so you are sure to find one that meets your budget.

Click here for some great deals on Wacom products on Amazon

With a graphics tablet, you need a drawing program to produce and display the sketches on screen. For that, I strongly recommend MyPaint. It’s easy to use and has a simple interface, so you will be drawing digitally in no time. However, MyPaint’s main draw (no pun intended) is definitely its unlimited canvas, which allows you to sketch as much as you want on just a single canvas. Very convenient when you have to come up with multiple concepts for a client. You can check out MyPaint and A Quick MyPaint Guide for some tips and tricks.

You will need most of the tools listed above to work online as a freelance graphic designer. Fortunately, getting them is as easy as a click of the mouse, and the best part — you probably won’t be spending a dime. So what are you waiting for?

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1 Comment

  1. Laza David

    Very good article . Thanks for your thoughts on this matter.

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